25 April 2010

Movie Review: Date Night

1 comments


D

Date Night
2010, 88mins, 15
Director: Shawn Levy
Writer: John Klausner
Cast includes: Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, Ray Liotta, Common, Taraji P. Henson, James Franco, Mila Kunis

UK Release Date: 23rd April 2010

How did “Date Night” end up so unfunny? It has two hugely talented and popular leads, an array of likable supporting players and a decent premise, so why is the movie such a chore to endure? The answer can be found in director Shawn Levy; a journeyman filmmaker with a noxious pedigree. Levy remade both “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther” to nothing but scorn, and then wasted a great cast in the box-office behemoth “Night at the Museum”. Levy might be a director capable of wringing cash out of audiences, but his work next to never solicits laughs, “Date Night” continuing this long standing trend. Despite Steve Carell and Tina Fey doing their best, the film is an exercise in how not to construct a mainstream Hollywood comedy. Hell, Levy might as well begin teaching seminars with that exact title.

Phil (Steve Carell) and Claire Foster (Tina Fey) are a bored married couple, their lives rotate around their mundane day jobs, their children and the one date night they get a week, which is always at the same place eating the same food. Following the divorce of some close friends (Kristen Wiig and Mark Ruffalo wasting their time); Phil decides to take Claire to a trendy seafood restaurant in the city. Predictably the restaurant is booked out; leaving the Fosters with no table, until Phil bravely steals a reservation made by a few no showers under the name Tripplehorn. Things start well, but when a few gun slinging heavies come looking for the Tripplehorns, they mistake the Fosters for their targets. Soon Phil and Claire are on the run, hunted for a USB pen they know nothing about. Deducing that the only way to stop the chaos is by tracking down the real Tripplehorns and getting the USB themselves, the Fosters turn to a military ex-client of Claire’s, Holbrooke (Mark Wahlberg) for help. However even with Holbrooke’s skills; the Fosters are going to need some serious luck if they want to survive the night.

“Date Night” is both badly directed and shoddily written, the film lacks any spark beyond what little its leads provide. Josh Klausner is the man wielding the pen behind “Date Night”, his only previous credit being the badly received “Shrek the Third”. It’s no surprise then that the gags are obvious and the story predictable, not that a clever narrative was ever really necessary to make “Date Night” work. The premise simply required some original jokes and half decent characterization, but Klausner’s screenplay is good for neither. Any smirks or giggles the movie induces (and they are few and far between) almost certainly derive from the improvisational hands of Carell and Fey, rendering Klausner’s contribution useless.

Shawn Levy also brings his usual mix of directorial ineptitude and lack of comic timing to the table, “Date Night” feels like a slog rather than the bouncy or frantic film audiences are looking for. Levy lets scenes continue for far too long, wasting perfectly good punch lines due to his inability to appropriately direct his actors or time his cuts. At least half the blame for the film’s low quality rests on Levy’s shoulders; the hack doesn’t even have the manners to make the property look good. “Date Night” has been shot on digital camera and looks atrociously low budget, the concept of cinematography having apparently been thrown out the window. Levy also fails to imbue the film with an involving emotional core, focusing far more rigorously on cringe inducing hi-jinks than marital strife. As a result audiences don’t ever feel involved with the picture or its characters, reducing it to a boring piece of inane drivel.

Carell and Fey are likable leads and indisputably excellent comics, but their characters in “Date Night” are terminally bland. The Fosters are never offensive personalities to be in the company of, but neither are they interesting, both performers left floundering due to the weak writing and lack of directorial competence. In fairness what little pleasure “Date Night” offers can be stemmed from their natural ability as clowns, Carell in particular is able to make the mundane seem passable from time to time. Mark Wahlberg is okay in a one joke performance as the shirtless Holbrooke, but the likes of William Fichtner, Ray Liotta and Taraji P. Henson are all laboured with ridiculously underwritten roles. Mila Kunis and James Franco manage to generate some mild chuckles as the actual Tripplehorns, but overall “Date Night” criminally wastes a fun cast. The film throws up a single perfunctory action scene (visible in the trailer) which is technically sound, but ultimately turns out to be as forgettable as the rest of the production.

“Date Night” is an extremely disappointing film, certainly one of 2010’s highest profile misfires to date. Following “Get Smart” and “Evan Almighty”, “Date Night” strongly indicates that Steve Carell needs a new agent. For Tina Fey this is her first genuine career misstep, hopefully teaching her to be wary of the Hollywood comedy system for the rest of her life. Shawn Levy should continue being thankful to whatever Genie he’s holding hostage, a man of his despicably awful reputation has no place working with such a strong cast of performers. “Date Night” itself is undeserving of whatever success should come its way, hopefully following its theatrical run the movie will fade from existence on DVD. This is one date you can afford to miss.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

23 April 2010

Retro Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

0 comments


A-

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
1988, 106mins, PG
Director: Frank Oz
Writer (s): Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Cast includes: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey
UK Release Date: 30th June 1989

Oh Steve Martin, what went wrong? Martin was once one of the funniest comedians on the planet; but has become increasingly sanitized over the last twenty years, leading to starring roles in poor 21st Century remakes of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther”. Alongside Eddie Murphy, Martin can hold the distinction of being the biggest comedic sell out in modern cinema; either that or he completely misplaced his funny bone about 15 years ago. 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” was one of the last great Steve Martin comedies, paired with Michael Caine the actor is in storming form here. Directed by Frank Oz, “Scoundrels” is brilliantly scripted and energetically handled, resulting in a delightful burst of eighties nostalgia.

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a big time conman in a town on the French Riviera. Lawrence has had the rich locals and visitors wrapped around his little finger for years, taking money from them in vast quantities due to the ingenuity of his shams. When a younger (and less polished) competitor called Freddie Benson (Steve Martin) shows up in town, Lawrence takes him under his wing, only for his pupil to breakaway and go solo with no remorse for his mentor. As a result the two men decide the area isn’t big enough for the both of them, a “loser leaves” bet being presented as a consequence. The wager requires the two tricksters to agree on a woman, and the first to extract $50,000 from her is the winner. So when soap queen Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly) rolls up in town, the game is afoot, but getting money from the eager young woman will require dirty rotten deeds of the upmost calibre.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a carefree and lovable comedy; a major reason as to why it gels so smoothly is its charming demeanour. The filmmakers never condone or attack the despicably sneaky actions of the lead characters, but rather revel in their dastardly plans with a joyfully cartoonish energy. The screenplay is based on a 1964 endeavour “Bedtime Story”, but “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is very much its own film. The performances are deliciously funny, the jokes fresh and spirited and the exotic locations cutely shot by Oz. The movie does provide a somewhat predictable twist (most viewers will likely have it figured by the hour mark), but getting to the finish is a genuine comic blast.

Steve Martin and Michael Caine are both sensationally good in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, and create a dazzling comic chemistry together. It’s a fairly generic “odd couple” set-up, but the pair lathers on oodles of comic expertise and showcases a terrifically fun momentum. Martin in particular is great value as the devious Freddie, managing to stamp his trademark brand of surreal slapstick all over the picture. Both leading figures are highly likable, a miracle given their moustache twirling villainy, and a testament to the quality of both the actors and the script. Glenne Headly holds her own against her male co-stars, but there’s no denying the show belongs to them, and they take pleasure in reminding the audience of just that.

The gags come thick and fast, with most sticking. The highpoint occurs about a third of the way through proceedings, in a selection of scenes in which Martin feigns being Caine’s demented younger brother. Here the tone is berserk, but the film as a whole derives much of its joy from snappy dialogue and more refined bursts of humour. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a success because it plays to both the strengths of Martin and Caine, allowing them to form an electric dynamic from the familiarity of their individual comfort zones. Martin gets to go crazy and overact with expert relish, leaving Caine to spout incisive dialogue and smarm it up with delectable candour.

The plot is compelling, even though it insists on finishing on an obvious note. My only real problem with “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” can be traced to its undercooked twist, the screenwriters underestimating the audience’s intelligence at this juncture. However seeing as most of the film treats viewers with such respect and offers them a comedic buffet of true quality, the misfiring climax isn’t hard to forgive. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a sumptuous eighties diversion; a barrel of laughs covered in professional looking package. It really makes you miss the Steve Martin of old.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

18 April 2010

Movie Review: Cemetery Junction

1 comments


B+

Cemetery Junction
2010, 95mins, 15
Director (s): Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Writer (s): Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
Cast includes: Christian Cooke, Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hughes, Felicity Jones, Emily Watson, Ricky Gervais, Jack Doolan, Matthew Goode
UK Release Date: 14th April 2010


Following the massive success of their television work, it was only a matter of time before Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant teamed up to make a movie together. Gervais co-directed the underappreciated “The Invention of Lying” last year with Matthew Robinson, but “Cemetery Junction” marks the first big directorial gig for Merchant; and more importantly the duo’s first work together since TV’s “Extras”. “Cemetery Junction” is a highly engaging drama, and a delightful change in direction for Gervais and Merchant. “Cemetery Junction” is a completely different project from any of the pairs past works, and shows that the men can handle heart-warming drama as competently as they do comedy. “Cemetery Junction” is perhaps a shade too lightweight for it to be considered a truly great picture, but it’s a remarkably confident and entertaining foray none the less.

The film opens in 1973, in the small English town of Cemetery Junction. Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan) are three friends in their early twenties, each with different perspectives on their current lives. Freddie has just been employed by a high profile life insurance firm in a bid to avoid the same factory grind that his father (Ricky Gervais) has to endure. Bruce is enchanted with the idea of leaving Cemetery Junction but makes no active effort to do so, spending his days fighting, chatting up girls and disrespecting his own drunkard father. Snork is the goofiest of the trio, and thinks that as long as Freddie and Tom are around he’ll be fine. Freddie feels that the firm offers him hope of the big house, fast car and loving family that he one day wants, the head of the company Mr. Kendrick (Ralph Fiennes) providing him with a rags to riches role model. However Freddie begins to understand that in this business morals are second to sales; and as he slowly falls for his bosses ambitious (and soon to be married) daughter Julie (Felicity Jones), Freddie begins to suspect that leaving Cemetery Junction might be the only way to get what he truly wants.

“Cemetery Junction” is a cosy feature, a coming of age tale with charm and wit to spare. The film is far more interested in spinning out a credibly dramatic story than making audiences laugh, meaning that a transition in expectation is necessary for the movie to be truly effective. Viewers’ wanting the cringe-tastic comedy beats of “The Office” and “Extras” might be a tad disappointed, but those looking for a beautifully shot and well rounded dramatic composition are likely to get exactly what they want. “Cemetery Junction” feels like a more personal and possibly even autobiographical endeavour, Merchant and Gervais having given their characters and screenplay a very human soul.

“Cemetery Junction” feels like a theatrical experience, it’s an unusually polished and visually gorgeous British film. Gervais and Merchant have basked the movie in a lovely golden glow, and clearly have gone to some lengths in making the product look good. Coupled with the impressively involving story the cinematography makes “Cemetery Junction” seem like a proper cinematic experience, from an aesthetic standpoint it’s definitely a superior motion picture to “The Invention of Lying”. Cemetery Junction never appears to be as grim a place as some of its inhabitants suggest, the script leaving each character to express their personal disdain rather than depicting the location as a hell on earth. Quirks like this provide the film with an added dose of dimensionality, and allow each screen presence to grow as an individual, rather than as a faceless group rallying against the same thing. Gervais and Merchant make it clear that it’s not the place, but rather what it represents which fuels our heroes’ thoughts and desires.

The film packs a respectable emotional punch, the screenplay’s various arcs all robustly effective and well written. Each character is engaging and nicely thought out; “Cemetery Junction” is thankfully devoid of clichés. The romantic aspect involving Freddie and Julie is never overly adventurous, but it is undoubtedly graceful and honest. Watching the three leading characters grow within the film is a rewarding experience, and thanks to smart dialogue and creative characterization it’s also consistently enjoyable. “Cemetery Junction” is chiefly interested in Freddie and Bruce (Snork is simply an oafish home bird who can’t get a girlfriend), and it handles the two unique arcs with skill and a good measure of emotional depth. The film avoids becoming sickeningly sweet but it does want to be upbeat and lively; Gervais and Merchant balancing these duel aims securely.

Christian Cooke and Tom Hughes are excellent in “Cemetery Junction”, providing the picture with the adolescent swagger and angst it really demands. Cooke is a lovable lead whilst Hughes puts in an affecting and rebellious turn as the anti-hero. If the pair can carry future films as comfortably as they do “Cemetery Junction” then they have bright careers ahead of them. Jack Doolan is primarily deployed as comic relief and takes a backseat to Hughes and Cooke, but he does provide an affable third face to their misfit party. Felicity Jones is both a physically and emotionally attractive actress, putting in a spirited and cute performance as Freddie’s potential love interest. Ralph Fiennes is somewhat wasted in a part that could have been filled by any actor, but Emily Watson is sensational as his melancholy and introspectively drained wife. Watson only gets a handful of scenes but fills each with a lingering and forlorn sadness, working brilliantly as an example of someone who has let their life slip away. She’s an obvious foil for the main characters, but it’s none the less a terrific piece of acting. Matthew Goode is satisfactorily snide as Mr. Kendrick’s underling and Julie’s fiancée, whilst Ricky Gervais himself gets a few chuckles as Freddie’s cynical father. Gervais doesn’t occupy much screen time, but it’s a good deal more than Stephen Merchant gets, the co-director reduced to a fleeting but amusing cameo.

The film has a great soundtrack and captures the era well. As a whole it’s perhaps a little frothy to stand beside true classics of the genre, but it’s an exciting motion picture debut for the Gervais/Merchant team. “Cemetery Junction” is a well made and gripping film, and certainly shows that there’s more to its creators than many previously thought. I look forward to the next time Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant hop behind the camera, because “Cemetery Junction” is a good omen for things to come.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

15 April 2010

DVD Verdict Review: Pirate Radio (Blu-Ray)

1 comments


C














Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/pirateradiobluray.php

DVD Verdict Review: The Lord of the Rings 1978 (Blu-Ray)

0 comments


C-
















Review Link:
http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/lordoftherings1978bd.php

DVD Verdict Review: Apollo 13 (Blu-Ray)

0 comments


B+

Review Link: http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/apollo13bluray.php

11 April 2010

Movie Review: How to Train Your Dragon

0 comments


B+

How to Train Your Dragon
2010, 98mins, PG
Director (s): Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois
Writer (s): Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois, Cressida Cowell (novel)
Cast includes: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
UK release Date: 31st March 2010

“How to Train Your Dragon” is an endearing surprise. Early marketing and an uninspired trailer had me write off the project from an early date, its use of the 3-D gimmick furthering my pre-emptive disdain. However as it turns out the picture is a consistently entertaining and heartfelt animated venture, peppered with solid visuals and a well judged cast of voice actors. It’s quite possibly the best film the DreamWorks animation wing have made to date, and gives viewers hope that other studios are starting to burn serious mileage in an attempt to catch-up with Pixar.

In the Viking town of Berk, local misfit Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is struggling to make good on his Nordic heritage. The town is pestered constantly by waves of ferocious dragons, the beasts having developed into the Viking’s arch enemies after years of warfare. The warriors are led by Stoick (Gerard Butler), Burk’s most famed dragon slayer and Hiccup’s disappointed father. After downing a dragon by accident in the heat of battle, Hiccup locates the trapped monster but hasn’t the heart to kill it. In repayment for sparing the animal it begins to form a bond with Hiccup, leading to a strong friendship and even letting the young boy ride upon its back. Hiccup nicknames the monster Toothless, and begins to understand that the dragons are misunderstood reptiles. However when Toothless shows Hiccup the dragon’s secretive lair, Stoick finds out, and leads a bunch of marauding Vikings to eradicate the animals forever. It falls to Hiccup to save both his friend and father; and try to devise a way for the two species to live in harmony.

“How to Train Your Dragon” is a charming feature, and boasts an impressively original screenplay. DreamWorks are possibly the most repetitive studio working at the minute (both in terms of morals and pop culture heavy gags), but “How to Train Your Dragon” dodges most of the usual bullets. The plotline isn’t as straightforward as the marketing makes it seem; whilst the dialogue and jokes are genuinely entertaining. The film is emotionally engaging; the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless presented with depth and genuine feeling. However even the supporting characters are made memorable thanks to some strong voice work and writing, “How to Train Your Dragon” focusing more on well rounded relationships than silly sideline jesting.

Jay Baruchel is excellent as Hiccup, the actor’s playful vocals coupling nicely with the scripts sincerity. As a performer Baruchel has thus far mostly been relegated to quirky supporting parts, but here he steps up to the plate and delivers a measured performance of both conviction and skill. “How to Train Your Dragon” really makes you care for its underdog hero, and Baruchel should be credited with a fair slice of that success. The supporting Viking players are comprised of a vibrant and good natured crew, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Kristen Wiig chief amongst them. America Ferrera (of “Ugly Betty” fame) is strong willed as Hiccup’s potential love interest; whilst Gerard Butler is unusually tolerable as Stoick. It’s without a doubt the Scotsman’s best performance in years, and probably his finest movie to date. The character of Toothless may not have a vocal outlet, but the filmmakers do tremendous work in turning the monster into a fully functional and sympathetic character; only Hiccup is more personable.

The film looks pretty, and the characters have been rendered with a respectable degree of detail and CGI flair. The 3-D still feels unnecessary (although it’s better used here than say, “Alice in Wonderland”) but overall the picture is lush to look at. Some of the night based sequences (of which there is a handful) seem a tad on the dark side; but overall “How to Train Your Dragon” definitely deserves a passing grade for its technical merits. Directors Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders apply a solid quota of action, including a finish that is both massively exciting and emotionally poignant. However “How to Train Your Dragon” is mostly interested in telling a moving story and creating some fun characters, two things that it manages to do in a terrifically naturalistic fashion. At no point does “How to Train Your Dragon” feel forced or strained, it flows brilliantly in both a narrative and comedic sense.

DreamWorks have turned out a great movie with “How to Train Your Dragon”. The studio has never had a problem setting the box-office alight, but true critical respect has always somewhat eluded them. This picture replaces “Shrek” as their best animated endeavour to date, and marks out some of the sharpest competition Pixar has endured for a long time.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

9 April 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island

0 comments


B+

Shutter Island
2010, 138mins, 15
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer (s): Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer
UK Release Date: 12th March 2010

“Shutter Island” defies expectations from start to finish. Whilst far from Martin Scorsese’s best film, it is one of the director’s most creatively shot; and coveys a genuine intelligence during its sizable duration. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, “Shutter Island” is a giant mind-fuck of a feature, offering a richly envisioned and eerily imagined view of those at the brink of madness. At times the feature over indulges itself, and the 138 minute runtime does seem a tad excessive, but those seeking an original and provocative time at the movies will still get exactly what they want.

The year is 1954. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are headed to Shutter Island, the location of America’s most prominent asylum for the criminally insane. The pair has been summoned due to the disappearance of a dangerous female patient, but on arrival they find the facility and its staff far more intriguing. As Teddy probes harder into the Hospital’s methods, he makes several disturbing discoveries and becomes suspicious of its leading psychiatrist; Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). As a storm rages around the Island (making departure impossible), Teddy has his own sanity tested, something that has endured recent strains due to the passing of his wife (Michelle Williams).

“Shutter Island” really is a beautiful looking production, and the musical score arouses further vibes of big screen audacity. As a technical work the film is flawless, albeit it would be remiss to expect anything less from Scorsese. The film’s gothic style is captured through sublime cinematography and moody photography, with several trippy editorial quirks added in to screw with viewer’s minds. The film’s aesthetics are layered and rewardingly complex, at times Scorsese’s effort is more interesting to look at than it is to follow. It’s probably fair to say that “Shutter Island” is one of Scorsese’s most visually dazzling and intricate works, everything about the movie pervades an unsettling sense of mental disintegration and a disturbing detour into undiluted madness.

“Shutter Island” isn’t the straight forward detective thriller suggested by its trailer. The film does play for large chunks of its running as a mystery, but the project is far more character orientated than the marketing hints at. DiCaprio’s character has his mind turned inside out during “Shutter Island”, the film going to great length in its examination of Teddy’s wife’s death and the violent part he played in the liberation of Dachau. DiCaprio struggles from time to time with his characters heavy Boston accent, but otherwise it’s s a poignant and emotionally powerful performance. Helping matters are an eclectic mix of character actors such as Bin Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and an outstandingly creepy Michelle Williams. The acting in “Shutter Island” is consistently impressive, the only weak link being Mark Ruffalo; who is merely bland rather than terrible.

“Shutter Island” is fascinating for the most part, and it builds to a convincingly plotted and twisty denouement. The screenplay is competently written, with a nice balance offered between the spooky Island and Teddy’s seemingly tragic past. The picture has enough excitement to keep viewers entertained and intellectually stimulated, Scorsese mixing the narrative up often and with obvious relish. A genuine concern is its overwrought length; “Shutter Island” could easily be just as enjoyable with a hefty twenty minutes shaved off its runtime. The production possibly offers a character or flashback too many, whatever the reason the pacing at times feels uneven. Audiences will still be satisfactorily gripped by the movie, but the occasional languid spot is what stops “Shutter Island” from becoming truly great.

In short “Shutter Island” is worth watching, but definitely not to the same extent as Scorsese’s best films. The acting is routinely inspired and the hallucinogenic visuals provide a sensory delight, but the story could have been tighter and more focused in parts. “Shutter Island” does ultimately provide viewers with a curiously captivating mindboggler of a screenplay, but there seems no legitimate reason as for why it demands such a hulking timeframe to convey its plot. So whilst “Shutter Island” is miles ahead of most multiplex dross, it’s hard to see it scoring big (or at all) come next year’s awards season.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

3 April 2010

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans

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C+

Clash of the Titans
2010, 118mins, 12
Director: Louis Leterrier
Writer (s): Lawrence Kasdan, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cast includes: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Liam Cunningham, Mads Mikkelsen
UK Release Date: 2nd April 2010

Note to reader
: I watched “Clash of the Titans” in 2-D, as opposed to the retrofitted 3-D option also available. As a result my review won’t be alluding to the quality of the 3-D special effects.

1981’s “Clash of the Titans” is not a film remembered for great storytelling or emotional depth, but rather it’s landmark use of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects. Harryhausen delved deep into Greek mythology for his work on the 1981 project; garnering gasps of awe and nostalgic adoration from an entire generation as a consequence. Louis Leterrier is the director behind this 2010 reimagining of “Clash of the Titans”; albeit instead of the hand sculpted wizardry of Harryhausen, Leterrier fills his version with oodles of CGI beasties and computer generated battle mongering. “Clash of the Titans” circa 2010 is undeniably a less charming endeavour than its 80’s predecessor, but thanks to good casting and a storming second half it provides a modest degree of entertainment.

Zeus (Liam Neeson) has grown weary of mankind, and finds their lack of respect and love for the gods unacceptable. In a bid to scare them back to their worshipping ways, Zeus unleashes his evil brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) to offer them a perilous ultimatum. The humans must sacrifice their gorgeous princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) or else a hideous creature named the Kraken will be unleashed, making the destruction of the great city Argos inevitable. However into the fray jumps Perseus (Sam Worthington) the demigod son of Zeus, and a man with vengeance against the gods on his mind. Along with a band of soldiers (including Liam Cunningham and Mads Mikkelsen) and his priestess advisor Lo (Gemma Arterton), Perseus sets out to free mankind from the terrible fate proposed by Hades.

“Clash of the Titans” is really a movie of two halves. The first is a ponderous and uninspired bungle of exposition and unconvincing characterization. However the second ramps up the energy and spectacle considerably, resulting in several fantastical instances of large scale action. “Clash of the Titans” is also driven to a traditionally heroic finale; something that this sort of fantasy picture demands. If audiences can sidestep the clumsy opening they stand a good chance of enjoying this well intentioned slab of bunkum; it’s just good old fashioned fun.

Sam Worthington’s performance here is adequate, but definitely a step down from his work in “Avatar” and “Terminator Salvation”. He plays Perseus as a sympathetic tough guy, finding very little depth beyond this herculean caricature. Still “Clash of the Titans” doesn’t really require much more from the actor to properly function, it’s a simple performance for a relatively simple film. Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are well cast as Zeus and Hades respectively, hamming it up in an equally overblown manner. Fiennes in particular skewers a deliciously cartoonish level of evil in his depiction of Hades; and the shared sequences featuring both he and Neeson are a total hoot. It’s interesting to see thespians of Liam Cunningham and Mads Mikkelson’s standard slotted into conventional supporting parts, but at least they growl their lines with true conviction. Finally Gemma Arterton provides only sex appeal in what is otherwise a silly performance. Her ability to utter exposition and sound wise beyond her years is limited, making me concerned for the upcoming “Prince of Persia” feature; where she appears to be doing those things alone.

The story is paper thin and fairly forgettable, but the action is consistently cracking. The CGI is solid and the creature designs are nicely thought out; leaving Leterrier only the job of concocting blockbusting mayhem and monster madness. Thankfully, he succeeds royally in these areas. “Clash of the Titans” throws everything it can at the viewer in a frenzy of Greek Mythology and sword and sorcery adventuring. These bursts of awesomely constructed combat mark “Clash of the Titans” out as decent slice of undemanding popcorn cinema, allowing it to mount some semblance of credibility despite its lack of humanity. Leterrier has designed the movie as a theme park extravaganza, taking viewers from one adrenaline stocked set-piece to another. The action and digitals are aided thanks to polished cinematography and production design. Leterrier has created a believable Argos and shoots with a pleasing gold tinted perspective, effectively maximising the visual panache his production boasts.

Fans of the original picture will revel in the reappearance of Pegasus, the Gorgon Medusa and of course the imposing Kraken. However equally familiar will be the loose plotting and lack of narrative substance, something many hoped this remake might repair. Leterrier has approached the material with the same thirst for fantasy fury that the original filmmakers provided, skimping on a compelling emotional centre to a similar degree. It’s a vague disappointment that “Clash of the Titans” 2010 doesn’t attack its Greek mythology with a further injection of pathos or storytelling integrity; something that might have pushed it beyond its place as an aesthetically competent piece of escapist filmmaking.

“Clash of the Titans” isn’t essential viewing; it won’t lose much in the translation from the big screen to Blu-Ray. The film has been lovingly crafted as an imbecilic but satisfactorily action packed adventure; and against all odds it’s a rather decent watch. Those with a tolerance for CGI fuelled enterprises are sure to find it a perfectly passable way to fill two hours, just as long as they are willing to accept it as little more than epic eye candy. “Clash of the Titans” deserves acknowledgment as a boisterous big screen extravaganza; but much like the original it’s happy enough to skimp on silly things like dialogue or a meaningful screenplay. Still, it’s always hard to argue with monsters and swordfights.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010